Communicating Critical Results for Patients in the Community

HSE Media Release: 27 January 2020

The new guideline, launched by HSE CEO Paul Reid, sets out the agreed approach and timelines for communicating results to patients in the community based on the severity of potential underlying diagnoses, an imminent risk to the patient and the urgency of intervention.

Results are categorised as follows:

  • Category A - results require communication within 2 hours as they indicate potential immediate danger to the patient, or a potentially life-threatening illness when urgent intervention is required
  • Category B - results require communication within 24 hours, preferably on the same working day
  • Category - C results can be communicated the next working day as they may have an immediate impact on a patient’s management (either treatment or investigation).

Speaking at the launch Mr Reid said:

“The guideline is a welcome patient safety initiative providing clear information for both staff working in laboratories and health care staff who request tests such as GPs and nursing staff for communicating critical laboratory results. It will help to ensure that patients who have a lab test result indicating they require urgent treatment, are contacted in a timely manner and arrangements put on place to make sure they promptly receive the treatment they require.”

An example would be a lab test indicating dangerously low potassium levels which place the patient in imminent danger of a heart attack if not treated very quickly.

Explaining the context of the guideline, Dr Cathal O’ Keeffe, Head of Clinical Risk at the State Claims Agency said:

“Adverse outcomes arising from failure to act promptly on critically abnormal laboratory results, in patients who appear well, is a risk to patient and service user safety. While these adverse outcomes are rare, they can be prevented with good planning and communication.  This guideline sets out a clearly defined approach for reducing this risk of harm to a patient or a delay in their treatment.”

The guideline has been developed in consultation with all pathology disciplines, nursing, the hospital groups, hospital-based and community laboratory users, GPs, patient representatives, the Traffic Medicine Programme, National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) and National Ambulance Service.

Dr Mary Keogan Clinical Lead Pathology Programme explained:

“In the event, the requester of the lab test is not contactable, the guideline outlines a clearly defined process for contacting the patient and arranging their care in the local Emergency Department. Patients and carers will be key partners, with appropriate supports, in this patient safety initiative.”

She added, “We will now commence the process of implementation across all our Laboratory facilities as well as ensuring that all our key stakeholders including our GP, clinical  and nursing colleagues are informed and ready to implement this new patient safety guideline.”


Last updated on: 27 / 01 / 2020